House Democrats rebuffed Republican efforts Thursday to remove $200 million for the Presidio in the San Francisco district of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with one lawmaker declaring that she deserved “a little bit more” because of her hard work.
Rep. Steve Cohen, Tennessee Democrat, admitted during the House Natural Resources Committee’s mark-up session that it sometimes seems that “Speaker Pelosi gets maybe a little bit more, and some of the leaders get a little bit more on some of these bills.”
“Well, the truth is, they should,” said Mr. Cohen. “If it weren’t for her working 24/7, and she does, to keep this place going, we wouldn’t be going. She does more for America than any other member, I would submit in this Congress, times 10. So I support the proposal,” he said.
Flabbergasted Republicans argued that there were far more pressing needs for parks and public lands funding than the Presidio, a historic 1,500-acre park located on prime real estate on the San Francisco peninsula that features exclusive residences, hotels and a golf course.
“I really appreciate the remarks by Rep. Cohen because it fully takes the mask off what this is all about,” said Rep. Tom Tiffany, Wisconsin Republican. “This is a Pelosi payoff. This is where somebody puts themselves before their office,” he said.
House Republicans brought a half-dozen amendments seeking to divert the $200 million to other priorities, including raises for wild-land firefighters; recreation opportunities for veterans and Gold Star families; upkeep on 9/11 memorials; and performing deferred maintenance on national parks.
All the proposals were defeated, even though Republicans pointed out that the Presidio Trust, which manages 80% of the park, was charged at its founding in 1996 with “operating the park without taxpayer support.”
Rep. Lauren Boebert, Colorado Republican, whose amendment to reduce the allocation to $1 was also voted down, said that “just because she is speaker doesn’t mean she gets to bloat this bill.”
“This is an obvious giveaway to Speaker Pelosi and the powerful elites in San Francisco that support her, and the U.S. taxpayer gets stuck with the bill,” Ms. Boebert said.
Committee Republicans may have been stymied in their efforts to cut the Presidio line item, part of the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package under the panel’s jurisdiction, but they scored plenty of political points taking on what they called the “Pelosi Presidio Payout.”
Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, the panel’s ranking Republican, said that Presidio Trust board members have “contributed $18.8 million to Speaker Pelosi and” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, including a $1 million donation in June.
“Now here we are in September with a $200 million gift back to the Presidio Trust,” he said. “I know the taxpayers in my district don’t want to fund Nancy Pelosi’s golf course. And they don’t want their taxpayer dollars going to fund a piece of real estate in one of the most wealthy parts of the country.”
Displayed behind Mr. Westerman was a poster of Mrs. Pelosi, who lives near the Presidio in the exclusive Pacific Heights neighborhood, with a quote of her saying, “I’m a regular at the Presidio. It’s just so beautiful to walk and see the bridge and then walk back and see the city.”
Rep. Raul Grijalva, Arizona Democrat and the panel chairman, countered that the Presidio, formerly an Army installation, was also part of the National Park Service and had maintenance needs like any other park does.
“Like everywhere else, the pandemic of the last year-plus has affected that with deep reductions in revenue, and the organization needs support and a lifeline,” he said. “Like all national parks, the Presidio has deferred maintenance. It is, after all, a 19th-century Army fort. We’ve invested in addressing those and the focus of deferred maintenance doesn’t have to postpone other priorities.”
He also argued that there was funding elsewhere in the enormous spending package to target Western wildfires, a high-priority item with California blazes on pace to burn more acreage this year than any other year in recorded state history.
“Committee Democrats have prioritized community ecosystems and federal employees in our effort to address the wildfire crisis,” Mr. Grijalva said. “This subtitle already invests $1 billion for wildfire management, including federal and tribal wild land firefighters … At the same time, I believe we can support the Presidio as part of our shared heritage and history.”
He added that the “Presidio itself is home to many sites that honor our veterans.”
Rep. Garret Graves, Louisiana Republican, was unconvinced, calling the allocation “a gift for the speaker” and noting that “there are very few veterans in that area because they can’t afford to live there.”
“So let’s make recreational opportunities for all Americans, not just Speaker Pelosi’s constituents,” said Mr. Graves.
In a statement last week, Mrs. Pelosi’s office said the deferred maintenance bill for the park, which attracts more than 10 million visitors annually, had reached $400 million.
“During the pandemic, it has offered a largely safe, outdoor space for families and friends to gather,” the statement said. “However, today, the Presidio — a 245-year-old former military installation — faces a $400 million backlog in deferred maintenance needs, including replacing and upgrading the aged utilities inherited from the Army. This maintenance is crucial to ensuring that this park remains functional and accessible for the people.”
Ms. Boebert noted that the Presidio Trust sought to raise $200 million from donors in 2018 to renovate Fort Scott and its 22 historic buildings, and turn them into what Presidio CEO Jean Fraser called a “place for change,” as reported by KQED in San Francisco.
Mr. Tiffany suggested Democrats to think less about Mrs. Pelosi’s political future and more about their own.
“The speaker is going to be gone here, after this session, guys,” he said. “You should be sure you’re not gone with her by voting for stuff that’s contrary to the interests of the American people.”